Unmasking A Hidden Killer

Punxsutawney Phil, the weather predicting groundhog, is held up by his handler Bill Deeley while holding a "Terrible Towel" after the prediction of six more weeks of winter was announced in Punxsutawney, Pa. on Thursday, Feb. 2, 2006. AP

A new X-ray technique offers doctors a clearer way of identifying potential heart attack victims. CBS News Correspondent Elizabeth Kaledin reports.

Jon Etta Curran, 43, has good reason to worry about a heart attack. Both Curran's parents had heart attacks in their early 50s, and she has a history of high blood pressure. So, she's trying a new test being used at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center that will give her peace of mind.

In just seconds the HeartScan takes about 30 cross-section X-rays which can pinpoint trouble: white masses of calcium build-up in the arteries.

It's fast and
it's accurate, but more importantly doctors say that the HeartScan is the first tool ever to detect heart disease in people with no symptoms. This means heart attacks can be prevented.

While EKGs hint at underlying heart disease, the HeartScan actually shows a picture of it. Professor Lewis Kuller says that means people at high risk can be identified and treated earlier.

"With the current knowledge we have now we could reduce heart attacks in man and women by 50 percent within the next five to ten years easily," says Kuller.

Doctors also say a picture is worth a thousand words when it comes to motivating patients.

"The most gratifying response is that they take their cigarette packs and crumple them up and thrown them to the floor," says Dr. Daniel Edmundowicz

That's what Patricia Mannella did. She lost 25 pounds too. Her heart scan was a wake-up call.

"I thought, wow...I had no idea that was happening," said Mannella.

The hope is to catch more cases like Patricia Mannella's, to make heart scans the standard of care and end the heart attack's reign as the number one killer of both men and women.

Reported By Elizabeth Kaledin

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